Winner of the 2011 Obie Award for Playwriting, Samuel D. Hunter’s ironically-titled A Bright New Boise centers on the lives of a group of employees working dead-end jobs at a nondescript Idaho craft store. Well-performed by a solid cast, it effectively blends comedy with darker themes.
The piece opens with Pauline (Meredith Bell Alvarez), the store’s foul-mouthed and volatile manager, interviewing new arrival Will (George Green) for a part-time cashier position. Practically thumping her chest, she boasts that she’d single-handedly pulled this location from certain closure with great dedication and hard work. She only wants employees who will help her to maintain this “ecosystem” she’s created. Though Will seems to be quite withdrawn and unwilling to say much about his past, Pauline is satisfied with his experience and hires him on the spot.
Will is quickly introduced to his co-workers. Alex (Michael Roberts) is a severely troubled teenager and Leroy (Tyler Smith) is his fiercely protective, adoptive elder brother. Alex likes artsy music and longs to become a famous musician himself, while Leroy expresses his disdain for the world by wearing self-designed T-shirts with vulgar expressions printed on them. Finally, there’s Anna (Catie Carlisle), a dreamy bookworm who longs for something dramatic to happen in her life just as in the trashy fiction she consumes.
What they all have in common is an overwhelming sense of desperation. It’s as if their lives have already reached their peaks – and there’s nowhere to go but down.
Will reveals to Alex that he’s Alex’s his real father, having been forced to give the boy up for adoption when he was just an infant. Leroy discovers something even more disturbing. The reason Will had to flee his hometown was that he was part of a Rapture cult that had recently imploded as the result of a terrible scandal that’s still sending shock waves throughout the state.
Fearing that Will is here to “convert” Alex, Leroy warns him to stay away from his brother, but father and son meet secretly and gradually reveal their lives to each other. The boy is a fabulist and is prone to major panic attacks, while Will, whose religious faith still overwhelms him, desperately longs for the Rapture to arrive.
This ensemble, as directed by Omar Leos, is quite strong, especially Roberts and Green. Roberts’ jittery performance as the anxiety-ridden Alex is almost painful to watch, while Green wrenchingly portrays a desperate man who wants nothing more than for God to destroy the world.
Jeremy Whittington’s set design perfectly captures the drab look of a Hobby Lobby break room, and it’s atmospherically lit by Dan “Doc” Heggem. Kudos also go to Jesse Worley’s moody sound design and the costuming by Cordelia Rios.
It’s terrific that the Playhouse has its own “art house” in the Cellar, a space where riveting, cutting-edge works can find a home – and this production is no exception.
A Bright New Boise plays Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 6:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. through Jan. 21 at the Cellar Theater at the Playhouse San Antonio, 800 West Ashby Place. Tickets can be obtained online or by calling (210) 733-7258.